When the Legislative Assembly shut down in March due to the COVID Health State of Emergency, the Government of the Northwest Territories was well into its annual budgeting process. As we continue that discussion, we are also moving forward to other financial matters to be discussed during this sitting of the Legislative Assembly.
The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic do not change the Government’s need to continue providing programs and services. At the same time, we have been responding to the immediate needs of the Northwest Territories economy, communities, businesses and residents as a result of the health restrictions.
Since the 2020-2021 Budget was introduced, the Government’s fiscal situation has worsened as the COVID-19 pandemic has created declines in own source revenues and increases in expenditures as the Government has developed and launched a variety of economic relief packages. The significance of the negative effects on the fiscal framework will be better known as the Emerging Wisely plan is further implemented.
Mr. Speaker, we are fortunate that Canada has provided $23 million in support to the GNWT response that will partially offset costs directly related to COVID-19. Right now, departments are responding to COVID-19 in ways that have not been included in their budgets through existing appropriations. These include the establishment of Emergency Management Operations, which are likely to be ongoing for some time; the roll-out of managed alcohol; check stops at borders; monitoring of incoming air traffic passengers; self-isolation centers in regional centers; and homelessness supports. The Department of Finance is working with all departments and public agencies to track all incremental costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, the Government of the Northwest Territories has spent almost $7.9 million in COVID-related costs and we project an additional $31.1 million will be needed, of which $11.3 million is allocated to the health response.
The Government of the Northwest Territories has also provided targeted assistance to various sectors in the territory including funding for childcare providers, airport landing fee holidays, airport lease fee holidays, and increased income assistance which to date totals over $30 million.
I believe we must work to creatively use further assistance to advance the 19th Legislative Assembly’s Mandate. The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting health measures being implemented across the planet have thrown the global economy into the economic equivalent of a 100-year storm. Given the economic disruption, and despite all immediate government actions to support the economy, things will not be the same when the COVID-19 pandemic health measures have lifted. The Government of the Northwest Territories has a responsibility to support the recovery as quickly as possible or much of the private sector may not have the ability to recover. We need to act quickly and strategically to invest in the future economy and in our residents and businesses in a way that reflects the core values held by Northwest Territories residents and builds on the priorities of the 19th Legislative Assembly. It is my expectation that through the structure of the Emerge Stronger dialogue and process, we will be able to gather ideas and proposals that reflect needs from across regions, communities and sectors in order to take responsive and responsible funding decisions.
Mr. Speaker, departments have provided high level assessments of COVID-19 impacts on the Mandate priorities and associated actions that indicate a lot of the Mandate items can be fulfilled by the end of the 19th Legislative Assembly with few delays or issues. As we adjust to a post-COVID environment, I look forward to working with all Members to keep the Mandate largely aligned with the economic and social recovery by recognizing priorities that may no longer be relevant and embracing new priorities that may have emerged.
As part of the 2020-2021 budgeting process, a fiscal strategy has been presented that spans the life of the 19th Legislative Assembly. Part of this strategy identified $25 million to fund Mandate priorities over the next four years. This funding is proposed to remain in place and the Supplementary Appropriation to be considered this sitting will include an advancement of immediate funding to begin work on several initiatives.
Mr. Speaker, back in February, I indicated that we would hold public discussions on the next budget as soon as possible so that the Assembly would have the benefit of residents’ priorities in advance of finalizing the four-year business plans. These plans and increased program evaluation, among several policy initiatives, are intended to lead to governing so that “the Northwest Territories is a premier destination to live with a positive economic future, strong educational opportunities for our children, quality health care, a respectful approach to honouring lands, water and wildlife, and collaborative relationships with Indigenous governments based in a commitment to reconciliation.” We want to understand how residents interpret what is essentially our mission statement.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not changed this commitment. Over the summer months of 2020, supported by the Department of Finance, I will endeavour to meaningfully engage with residents of the Northwest Territories to determine their views on a variety of topics related to how and why the Government of the Northwest Territories spends money. Of particular interest to me, given the drastic changes that have taken place as a result of COVID-19, is how residents and stakeholders think the Government should change the way we do business and what measured risks they would support the Government to take to aid with the economic and social recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.